Planned Parenthood Arizona joins others restarting abortions

·5 min read

PHOENIX (AP) — Planned Parenthood Arizona has joined several other providers that have restarted abortion care in the state —, although it may only be temporary — after clinics ceased providing the service when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that women do not have a constitutional right to end a pregnancy.

The organization has for years done the most abortions in the state, but it ended the practice after the high court overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling on June 24.

Planned Parenthood and other providers shut down because of the legal uncertainty over a pre-statehood law that bans almost all abortions and a “personhood” law that they feared could be used to prosecute doctors and nurses providing that care.

A federal judge blocked the personhood law on July 11 after abortion rights groups sued, saying it was unconstitutionally vague. That prompted some providers to restart services, including two clinics in Phoenix and one in Tucson. Some provide the abortion pill, and others have both the pill and surgical abortions.

Separately, a state judge in Tucson in considering the attorney general's request to lift an injunction barring enforcement of the pre-statehood law. Attorney General Mark Brnovich had announced that law was enforceable after the Supreme Court decision, but then he acknowledged the injunction remained in place.

Planned Parenthood Arizona this week began providing both medication and surgical abortions at its Tucson clinic, one of four in the state where it provided abortions. Those four and three others run by the group never halted other care, such as pap smears, contraception and other reproductive services. Planned Parenthood plans to begin offering vasectomies in the fall.

Brittany Fonteno, Planned Parenthood Arizona's president and CEO, said the decision to open just the one clinic for abortions came down to the staff being willing to take a risk and go back to providing services that some Republicans contend are illegal.

“We have providers who, even with this bit of legal clarity that we’ve been able to get over the past couple of weeks, they’re still not comfortable,” Fonteno said Friday. “So we chose Tucson because that’s where we had providers that felt comfortable in resuming abortion care.”

Other Planned Parenthood clinics could restart abortion care in the coming weeks, she said.

A judge in Tucson heard arguments on Aug. 19 on Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich's request to lift the 1973 injunction blocking enforcement of the state law banning nearly all abortion. She said she will rule on or after Sept. 20. Brnovich said the only reason that law was blocked was because of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Planned Parenthood and its Arizona affiliate told Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson that she should only allow the law to be enforced against people who are not doctors so that other abortion restrictions that the Legislature has enacted since Roe remain relevant.

The court battles in Arizona are just two of many playing out in mostly Republican states across the country in the wake of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority overturning Roe. There are legal fights about whether abortion bans – either those predating Roe, or those passed to trigger bans in case Roe was overturned – can be enforced.

Currently, 12 states ban abortion at any point in pregnancy and two others do when fetal cardiac activity can be detected – generally around six weeks of gestational age and often before women realize they are pregnant.

Arizona's near-total abortion ban was first enacted decades before Arizona was granted statehood in 1912, and it’s only exception is if the mother's life is in danger.

The personhood law was passed in 2021 and was immediately challenged in federal court as unconstitutionally vague. The law gives all legal rights to unborn children. Abortion rights groups said the law puts providers at risk of prosecution for a variety of crimes.

U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes refused to block it, saying an appeal to do so was brought prematurely. After Roe was struck down, he heard a new challenge and in July blocked enforcement, saying it was unconstitutionally vague.

Rayes agreed with the groups that sued to block the law, writing that it is “anyone’s guess,” as the state acknowledged, what criminal laws abortion providers may be breaking if they perform otherwise-legal abortions.

Rayes had blocked another part of the law last September, one allowing charges to be brought against doctors who knowingly terminate pregnancies solely because of a genetic fetal abnormality such as Down syndrome. It also allowed charges against anyone who helped raise money or pay for abortions done solely because of genetic abnormality.

Rayes last year said those provisions, too, were unconstitutionally vague. But the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision shortly after it threw out the Roe ruling.

On Friday, the Center for Reproductive Rights asked Rayes to again block the part making abortions illegal if they are being done because of genetic problems with the fetus. A court date has not been set.

This year, the Legislature passed a law making abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That law is set to take effect on Sept. 24. In part, it is the conflict between the pre-statehood total abortion ban and the new law that the judge in Pima County must consider when she decides whether to lift the 1973 injunction.

“So I think that what what this tells us is that abortion, while it’s still legal right now in Arizona, the future of abortion is still uncertain,” Forteno said.

Bob Christie, The Associated Press